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Olympics and Walls

posted August 20, 2008 @ 7:27 AM  |  Elite Level Competition | Technique, Tips, and Drills category

~By Nate McBride

Well the first week of the Olympics is now over and if you didn't know better, you may have thought that the only two sports at the Olympics were swimming and volleyball, oh, and the occasional boxing match. You may also have realized that the two largest sponsors of the Olympics, Budweiser and McDonalds, provoke a sense of only the deepest irony. While I, like most athletes, enjoy a few Big Macs and Budweisers between sets, I have to go out on a limb and speculate that NO athletes at the games, except maybe the Hammer throwers, eat McDonalds or chase their McNuggets with a Budweiser tall boy. But that is only speculation and maybe, as a coach, I am behind the times on training diets. I will immediately begin a thorough investigation.

While I am glad that Michael Phelps won all of his events, I find it unfortunate that the great coverage team at NBC decided to neglect everyone else that kicked butt or in some way had a compelling swim.

The primary example is Rebecca Adlington who broke a 19-year standing record. The camera stayed on her for all of 15 seconds before going BACK to Phelps. Wonder if Rowdy Gaines ever got tired of saying "and now back to Phelps". If you are going to give swimming such a vast amount of time, show us some of the other stories like Stany Kampopo from Congo who swam the 50 Free in a time of 35.19 and was the slowest qualifying time after the prelims. This guy had to BORROW a suit and if you have seen the pictures, it was a pair of biking shorts...purple ones. This guy, sponsored by NO ONE, flew all the way from Congo to represent his country, came in dead last and yet, all we cared about was how much money Michael made for getting 8 golds. (No Mike, I am sure that the lucrative endorsements you knew you would get NEVER came across your mind). So what if he came in last, it's still a race I would have liked to have seen. Better yet, how about 12 year old Antoinette Mouafo from Cameroon who swam a 33.55 in the 50 Free prelims. That time would have put her in the top 10 at USMS Nationals this weekend in every age group under 40. Think about that next time you think you swam a tough set. There is a difference between Olympic Trials, where you are supposed to show all of the Americans, and the Olympics, where other people from other countries do actually compete. Of course, just when you think it's over, you can turn on the set and instead of seeing sports, watch Bob Costas ask Phelps' Mom what she is feeling. It's over, let's move on and see some other sports. Congrats Mike...we have enough to deal with for the next four years with the LZR suits and all; go enjoy your money for a bit. Have a Big Mac and a few Buds. (don't drive though).

For now, enough about the Olympics.

We have been spending a lot of time in the last few weeks on walls. In fact, for our biweekly video session I just had everyone do lots of flipturns and captured them on video from different angles under water. Flip turns are one thing you can NOT over analyze. We also think about the walls and in the world of my club, we break down the walls into three areas: The red zone, the top of the key, and the pocket. It is good to think about the "red zone" as a place to really make a difference during a race. We call the red zone the distance between the flags and the wall. I call the area right before the flags the "top of the key" and the area between the bottom cross and the wall, "the pocket". We work all three of those areas a lot not only because so many races are won or lost in those three areas but also because the middle of the pool can be such an effort-less area and I like using those areas as high work zones. It is canon in our club that when you finish any high effort set or piece of that set, you dont breathe in the red zone coming into the wall. Similarly, my competitive swimmers are forbidden from breathing off the wall until they pass the top of the key or take one full stroke. They must also take a minimum of 3 fly kicks off of every wall - failure to do so gets you 20 pushups on deck. There aren't a lot of folks doing pushups any more but it does happen from time to time.

Walls, like kicking, are one of those things that must be done all of the time, regardless of the set. Trust me when I say, it DOES get easier. Your lungs and legs do adapt quickly, especially if you keep at it. Every 4,000 yards equals 160 chances to work on a wall and 120 chances (give or take depending on the sets) to work on turns. Those are all freebies. If you even did half of them at your best effort, that's still 80 good walls. When we are not directly focusing on walls and such, we do keep an eye on them and make sure the swimmers are working on them. When we DO focus on walls and do wall sets, there are a few special drills that we use which are especially good, one of those is the underwater turn drill. This drill requires that from the top of the key, you submerge yourself to just a few feet from the bottom of the pool and kick to the wall, do a flipturn entirely submerged, and then kick like hell back to the top of the key. We do repeats of 100's through 800's with under water turns. We also do a lot of stretch cord work. Since we swim in a 25 yard pool, it's basically a playground for working on these areas. One of our drills is called the truck pull. With a stretch cord tied around the waist, the swimmer leaves the wall and sprints to the other wall. Once they get there (some of my swimmers can make it in ~18 seconds while others can take up to 30 or so) they get to hold on to the wall for 5 seconds. Then they have to let go and float back 5 yards to the top of the key where they have to stay in the key for 25 strokes. Once they have completed those 25 strokes, they get to float back to midpool for an easy 100 strokes. Then they have to sprint back to the top of the key for 25 more strokes and then try to make it back to the wall.

We do these on 4:30 so the swimmer would get about 30 seconds rest although it feels as though you swam a 1500. After a few of these, we go right into 5-turn 50's meaning that you do 5 full flipturns during a 50 - including the one at the wall. This helps with that quick wall turnover and when doing it when you are dead tired makes one really work to get over. Those are usually on a soft interval (base +:15). After an hour of this, your sprinters AND distance swimmers will be begging for mercy but will all know that they just kicked some serious butt.

Note: Nate McBride had been a competitive swimmer for over 29 years and has been coaching for 16. He is currently the Head Coach of West Side Swim Club in Sudbury, Massachusetts.


Agreed. There is no such thing as an easy turn. It is an exchange of momentum. Time on the wall is lost time and time and effort not spent maintaining that momentum and accelerating is a waste of time effort. Races are won and lost on the turns. Look at video from 2004 and 2008 of the elite athletes from the Olympics. It is shocking.

Don't hate on Michael Phelps though. Like it or not he raises the profile of our sport. Do you think he puts in the time/pain/effort for love or money? It is just too hard to do for money.

Posted by Scott on August 20, 2008 @ 4:11 PM


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